ARLINGTON, Texas — There were two common themes in the Rays' clubhouse Sunday after Drew Smyly made his unsuccessful return in a 5-3 loss that completed a weekend sweep by the Rangers:One, nobody was happy with the bottom line as Smyly lasted only four innings while giving up five runs on seven hits and throwing 95 pitches, looking every bit as rusty as a pitcher who had been out three months rehabbing a shoulder injury would.And two, everybody was encouraged by glimpses of what Smyly did, such as how he commanded his fastball and struck out some of the tougher Texas hitters, and how good — actually great — he said he felt during and afterward."Certainly we are looking for better results overall," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "But I'm definitely encouraged. He's right there on the cusp, on the brink of being a productive starter for us."Smyly said much the same, that he was a little bit nervous ("like it was my first game all over again"), and a little bit rusty, and a little bit disappointed with some specific pitches, but that he "definitely" can help the team:"It was a good game to build off."Which brings us to another point: The Rays and Smyly had better be right, because he has to be sharper and more effective, and soon.After suffering through six starts by Matt Moore in his return from Tommy John surgery, the Rays, back under .500 at 58-59, can't afford — not if they want to stay in the playoff race, anyway — to give away starts to pitchers who don't give them a chance to win.Consider this: The past 15 times the No. 5 spot in the Rays' rotation has come up, they lost 14. That's eight games started by Alex Colome, five of six by Moore and Sunday's game by Smyly.Also, consider this: After carrying the team for much of the season as the hitters struggled, the rotation is showing some signs of concern.In the three losses to the Rangers, Nathan Karns, ace Chris Archer and Smyly worked only 14 innings while allowing 14 runs and 20 hits.In 13 August games, the starters have a 5.75 ERA after posting a 3.35 mark through the season's first 104 games. And that's just as the bats have come to life: The Rays' .302 August average is second best in the majors, their five runs per game solid, but their record only 7-6."We certainly need to perform a little bit better," Hickey said. "This is a little bit disappointing in this month where we've swung the bats considerably better than we have and failed to capitalize on that. And for the most part, that's due to the pitching."So we need to step it up a little bit. There's time to do it. But it needs to start tomorrow."Smyly, from what he showed after coming over from Detroit for David Price in July 2012, can be a part of that improvement.But that's assuming that the caution signs from Sunday were indeed just a product of it being his first big-league game after four rehab starts and not a sample of what he will be like the next half-dozen games.Smyly's fastball velocity was primarily only in the 89-91 mph range on the stadium board, but manager Kevin Cash said the gun is known to be a few mphs slow and they were pleased with how the ball was coming out of his hand.Smyly couldn't throw his curveball close to where he wanted to and didn't throw his changeup enough, but the Rays say that will come with repetitions.Similarly what won't repeat, they say, is his throwing 20 or more pitches and allowing a run in each of his four innings, allowing two homers, and giving up the 1-0 first-inning and 3-2 second-inning leads his teammates got him.None of it was too surprising, especially on a warm day against a hot team, they said. All of it is expected to improve.Said Cash: "I would anticipate — we all do — that Drew will benefit from that and bounce back and be ready to go for his next start."It's Friday night in Oakland. And we'll see. Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.